Mowing Down Emissions

556954_10151356543617433_2026357672_nWe were woken this morning by the sound of next door’s lawn mower. Saturday is mowing day, and the sound reminded me to make a post about our push lawn mower, pictured here with a pretty lady. It’s one of those that might have been common place about 40 years ago (the mower, not the ladies), but I reckon it should be making a comeback.

While I would prefer to grow food not lawns, up here in Mission Beach we have to take care of the garden and lawns for our landlord, so a mower was needed. We picked up this Flymo at an op-shop for around $10, and new they’re about $50. That’s all I should ever need to pay I imagine, save for a little greasing oil. Compare that to a petrol mower that requires fuel and servicing, while initially costing at least 5 times the price, and I’m already in front. So on just a cost analysis, why not take push mower?

I’m guessing the lawn covers about 100 square metres, perhaps more, but we get this done in roughly the same time as a petrol mower would do it – as long as we keep it regularly cut. For small areas, by which I mean anything less than acres, it’s perfectly matched.

Then there’s the emissions (not accounting for production, but either a petrol or a push has this factored in) – mine are zero for lawn mowing, what about yours? Oh, but it’s minimal compared to a car I hear you say. So why not make it zero, why not make the small changes that we can? Ride a bike to work, get a push mower. No stinky petrol fumes either!

Now, change is scary I know, but the reason is usually because we don’t know what to expect. So here’s everything one needs to know about he function of a push mower

– it cuts grass by rotating 5 curved blades onto a stationary blade like scissors, the rotation is connected to the wheels. The cutting blade height is adjustable. The only downside here is if the wheel stops (ie hits a stone or soft sand) then the blades stop. Otherwise a simple and genius piece of design.

– it makes noise. But so does a petrol mower, a push mower just makes a different noise (scissors-type sound magnified a few times). It’s no louder than a petrol mower but I’m still looking forward to the first time a neighbour comes past and asks me to stop, what a contest that will be!

– it is better with certain types of grasses. There are about 4 or 5 in our lawned areas, and it performs best on the low running ones, next best on the wispy bunchy ones, and worst on the single clumped tall ones. Nevertheless, it still cuts all of them.

– it doesn’t get right up to the edges, but a petrol mower doesn’t do a great job of that either. That’s what trimmers are for (and you can get rechargeable battery ones of them too).

– there’s no catcher, so grass flies around everywhere when cutting, but my opinion is it’s probably best left to sit where it lands anyways. This causes some issue with grass getting wound around the turning axle, but it’s as much trouble to remove as the underside of a petrol one. If you want to collect the clippings, then use given the small areas we’re talking about a rake would be fine.

– you have to push it, but not much more than you would a pram or shopping trolley. The only snag is when the wheel hits a stone etc it will stop rather than roll over it, but you know, keep your lawns (Jimi Hendrix style) stone free, and you’ve got yourself some good exercise.

I can’t stress enough how simple these things are to use, and how simple and effective a change it is to make. Buy one of these, trial it, then sell your old mower and invest the profits in a case of wine.

Small Habit Change – Trade in the petrol mower for push mower.

Restoring Faith

I attended the Adelaide Showground Farmer’s Market for the first time about one month ago. They restored my faith in the possibility that a better food system is possible.

Having just recently spent two weeks camping on a permaculture farm – eating more or less direst from the garden – it was quite a shock to be forced into more distant food choices that come with living in Mission Beach. Occasionally I’m even forced into a head-shaking Colesworths visit to choose between four different options of ‘own brand’, or reluctantly pick a fake organic product off the shelf. At least there’s a small (proper) organics store in town to provide some sanity.

I was on KI recently and it was reaffirmed that they are not as focused on providing for their own needs as I think they should be. There is a once-a-month farmer’s market which is a bubbling community affair in an idyllic spot. Beyond that, if one wants to buy fresh produce, they must shop at the IGA. Very little in the store is made on KI; and though I (thankfully) haven’t done a full scale audit, I suspect not much is even produced in SA; and there is perhaps quite a high proportion of overseas products. Even products we think of as Australian are unlikely to be so, in today’s globalised marketplace. Follow the money and it is most certainly leaking very heavily off of KI, onto the mainland and flown overseas.

Compare these large supermarkets to the Farmer’s Markets, where the producer who is running the stall keeps all the funds of your purchase for themselves, save the cost of the stall. In the case of fresh produce, they have tended to the plants/trees/product from day 1, so have an intimate knowledge of what they sell you. Try asking a Colesworths employee the best way to keep capsicums fresh, or what a cow ate in the months before it became beef. These – and many others – are important questions, they increase our knowledge and create conversations about one of the few things that links us all together – our food. It’s not many steps between having a detailed discussion about potato growing and caring more about your entire diet, which leads to eating and acting in a healthier way, which leads to seeing the doctor less, which leads to saving money on medical expenses through not living with illness, which leads to being happier because you feel better about yourself. Talking about potatoes to happiness in 5 easy steps. One does not create this environment for one’s self by shopping at Colesworths, where if you even talk to a staffer they’re more likely to be concerned about an upcoming party than helping you.

Not every farmer’s market is weekly and not every one will have a membership card that entitles you to member’s prices (like the Adelaide Showground one), but they all will be a positive experience. Perhaps they will also restore your faith.

Small Habit Change – Find your local Farmer’s Market and go there once every month.

Violent Tendencies

I saw this photo on Friday when waiting for my car’s service to finish. It was on the gate to a rural supplies store and I stared at it for a while before it’s shocking-ness struck me. I think it’s the violence of it that is so unappealing, the desire to KILL everything. Proponents will say ‘we only want to KILL the weeds’, but even though the main target will be such and such a weed, anything in it’s path gets KILLED – directly or indirectly. I am part way through Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, where she cites case after case of aiming poisons at one target but the damage affects the entire area’s ecosystem. Spraying to KILL a beetle that transported a disease within elm trees (which arrived due to humans), and within two years there’s no birds in the area. The birds didn’t even eat the beetles, they ate the earthworms that died because the poison’s residue decomposed into the soil after the leaves fell off in autumn. Nature is pretty complex, therefore we must KILL it.

I’m pretty sure a correlation or study exists somewhere that connects our use of chemicals in agriculture to the KILLING of ourselves too. [I just need to research a little more]. Slowly but surely our desire to rule nature is coming back to get us, through minute traces of chemicals that make it through to our position in the food chain. Or in the case of this ad, large amounts of synthetic chemicals that are applied directly to the plant that supplies our bananas and sugar.

Another thought comes to mind when thinking about the ad, is the relationship it has not just to our willingness in KILLING weeds but also relationships with others. Yes, weeds are not people it’s true, and I’m not suggesting anything to do with KILLING humans, but KILLING anything is a violent act, especially when there are other methods available. For instance, a saying to come out of the Permaculture course I did a few months ago is – “You don’t have a slug/snail problem, you have a duck deficiency”. Nature has a way to combat everything, and when you consider the entire system as a whole, what you originally perceive as a problem might actually be a benefit. There are good and bad weeds/insects/diseases for every situation, blanket application of synthetic chemicals to KILL them all is violent. People who spray are ‘trusting their killer instinct’, whereas I’m going out on a limb here and saying people who buy organic bananas are not making wars…just sayin’.

Here’s an angry paragraph from Silent Spring that I quite liked – “Under the philosophy that now seems to guide our destinies, nothing must get in the way of the man with the spray gun. The incidental victims of his crusade against insects count as nothing; if robins, pheasants, raccoons, cats, or even livestock happen to inhabit the same bit of earth as the target insects and to be hit by the rain of insect-killing poisons no one must protest.” This is from 1962. 50 years later and we’re still fighting a struggle of market domination and hippy-labelling just for buying organic bananas. When we buy synthetically-sprayed anything (which is almost everything), we are supporting those who made and promote this ad, and KILLING.

Small Habit Change – Buy no-spray bananas and sugar.

Schurn’s Big Change

I’ve been neglecting this blog during the past few months, in favour of moving countries and all the associated events that come with that – including hiking in tropical National Parks (see photo). The delays will continue for a few more weeks for another reason – I’m doing a Permaculture Design Certificate down Sunshine Coast way. It’s something I’ve been keen to do for over a year since I first read about permaculture, but the timing and language barriers never quite aligned in Europe. Every new piece I read about permaculture confirms the light globe moment I had initially – that this what I want to do with my life. It only took 32 years…or maybe only 17-ish years from the age when school starts suggesting one might like to ‘think about one’s future’.

Permaculture seems to me to be a bringing together of ideas from all different cultures and ecological designs, to create a system based on maximum efficiency by working with nature rather than against it. By thoughtful observation rather than thoughtless action we can put the right pieces together to let nature do her thing, and she’s pretty incredible. It’s about taking care of the planet and it’s people, and sharing the benefits you create from becoming as self-sufficient as you can. I’m rather excited, hopefully the course provides many tools so that upon completion I can change my world and perhaps yours.

Hopefully the course also provides many interesting networks and ideas, something along the lines of Transition Towns, which I have been reading about the past few weeks. Their experiment sprung from a permaculture group, and looks at ways of building communities which are resilient against the impacts of peak oil, climate change and global economics; in a way that focuses on thinking the future could be much better without oil than our current inefficient systems based on cheap energy.

See you in the self-sufficient future folks!

Genetic Engineering/Modification…Part 1

Something I often wonder about is whether all the bad food industry practices that occur in the USA also take place in Australia. I’m a big business sceptic, so I assume they do….without really knowing. I’m going to start using this blog as an excuse to research some of them and develop a few ideas I have a little further.

The first example that crossed my path recently is that of GE (genetically engineered) crops/food. A lot of doco’s I’ve seen make reference to these – particularly soybeans and corn – in the USA, and here’s a brief outline of the problems as I see them, from my knowledge gained in the films.

**not related to anything in the text, just looks nice

GE crops are grown from a seed that is resistant to a pesticide which kills everything else in it’s path. OK, there’s the first problem – the crops rely on pesticide use to be grown. I am firmly pro-organic and anything that promotes the use of (invariably synthetic) pesticides is unhealthy in my book. In a broader sense, large scale cropping (which includes GE) has an over-arching issue of dependence on fossil fuels – through power for machinery, fertilizer and pesticide use. I buy organic food because I believe all the chemicals used to grow non-organic food are unhealthy for both the planet and my body.

Health concerns are the second major problem with GE crops. Science is divided, again seemingly into two groups that align with whoever supplies the funding for the research. Despite what the industry-backed science might say, I’m skeptical that GE has no adverse personal effects. I guess this issue comes down to ‘who to trust’ again. I feel that short-term studies miss out on long-term effects. Are there studies from the 50’s showing that high sugar consumption is OK? I’m not sure but willing to guess not, and I’m sure today’s diabetics will be unhappy with yesteryear’s scientists for that.

The third major problem, and the one of biggest outrage to me is surrounding the intellectual property of GE crops. The pesticide resistant seeds that are in a field of GE-whatever are patented by the manufacturer, so farmers are forced to buy new seeds every year rather than practice traditional methods of seed-saving from one year’s harvest to the next. If the farmer harvests a GE seed, and plants it the next year, he has created a product that is owned by the original manufacturer – and is in patent violation. Of course, the pesticide that is used to enhance the field’s weed-free status is made by the same company that supplies the actual seed – and so begins corporate dominance over small farmers. Farmers have a choice whether to plant GE or non-GE seed, but nature doesn’t stop at man-made fence lines, so contamination occurs and it seems rather easy for a non-GE farmer to have GE seed blown in from a neighbours property (just one of the ways), which brings on another patent violation law suit. This is just one of many bullying tactics used by the chemical giants to dominate the market. When GE soybeans started in the USA in 1996, they had a 2% market share, by 2008 it was 90% – that situation is only good for a handful of people within a few companies rather than the majority of the world’s population.

Ironically, this is the argument most commonly used by pro-GE (and increasingly pro-conventional or ‘anti-alternative’) folk – namely ‘this is how we will feed the world’. By appealing to our inner humanitarian, the companies’ propaganda machines play quite an effective hand. I see a few problems with arguing that GE crops are the best or only way to feed those starving in the world. Firstly – this thinking assumes that we can’t feed the world now, which is nonsense. As a planet we grow enough to feed every person alive – no-one should go hungry, but politics continues to allow it to happen. Growing a GE crop instead of a conventional one in Somalia will not reduce their starvation rates, but removing barriers that make it cheaper to buy first world grains than their home grown one will. Secondly – GE promoters claim they will feed more mouths through increased yield. Again depending on who you believe, this has be shown to be a fallacy – yield might increase in the first few years after switching but reduces to original rates over the medium term, 20 years or so. Thirdly, as mentioned above, it just doesn’t seem sustainable to me to be relying on crops that rely on fossil fuels. Lastly, it smacks a little of desperation to feign compassion for the starving – as often the only time anyone mentions this argument is within this issue. Anyone who mentions this and is not vegan, has no children (or at least one adopted from a starving country), and actively presses politicians to remove subsidies, is hypocritical in my eyes and probably cares more about ‘winning’ the discussion rather than feeding the masses. Yes, I care about the starving millions and it’s a horrible situation but I’m not going to pretend to solve it by planting a GE crop.

*nice picture of Aussie fields taken from carSo, where does that leave Australia? So far, there’s just canola and cotton grown using GE, but there’s trials for more including wheat. I’ve signed a petition on this issue and actually got a response from Tanya Plibersek (I’ll try to attach it somewhere here sometime). But I’m going to need to do some research and I think I’ve written enough for today….so more in Part 2. In the meantime, if one is interested, these guys are where I’m going to start the researching.

Small Habit, Big Change – Avoid GE foods by downloading the ‘truefood guide